Federal Proposal to Expand Fishing & Hunting to Impact Oregon Refuges

  In April, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a proposal that would create and expand hunting and fishing territories, impacting 97 wildlife refuges and 9 fish hatcheries – including 13 locations in Oregon, Idaho, and Washington, and two in Montana. 

As proclaimed by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, this “historic” proposal would offer “the single largest expansion of hunting and fishing opportunities” in U.S. history, and would take up a combined landmass larger than the state of Delaware. “Opportunities” are defined by the USFWS as a single species in a single field station in a single state. 

While hunting is already allowed in many wildlife refuges throughout the U.S., the proposal would create almost 900 new hunting and fishing opportunities. In western U.S., the Columbia River Basin will see a significant impact. 

Wapato Lake National Refuge near Portland would be open for migratory bird hunting for the first time, as well as Hart Mountain National Wildlife Refuge in Lake County, Oregon. Hart Mountain would also see expanded upland game hunting.  

Sport fishing and game hunting would be opened in three Washington fish hatcheries in close proximity to one another around the Columbia River Gorge. 

Comments from the public are being accepted until June 8, and so far, a majority of them have seen opposition of the proposal. Among concerns are for potential adverse effects on biodiversity and wildlife present in the areas. 

While an environmental assessment was performed, the Department of Interior did not require an environmental impact statement which would determine any negative impacts. Nonprofit organization Friends of the Columbia River Gorge have since written to the agency, urging them to complete a statement for each proposed site. 

According to the letter, “hunting plans propose hunting on small acreages near residences, farms and major roads. This poses an unnecessary risk to public health and safety.” 

The USFWS claims that the proposal won’t cause “significant adverse cumulative impacts” at the sites, despite what appears to be a lack of research into the matter. 

Conservation Director of Oregon Wild Steve Pedery told Eastern Oregon, “The challenge with this proposal is that it seems to have had very little, if any, conservation science given to it. It seems more like something that’s designed to generate a positive news cycle from the Trump administration, rather than something that meaningfully expands hunting and fishing access.”  

USFWS director Aurelia Skipwith says the proposal is cause for celebration. “Once the Trump administration’s effort to eliminate the threat of COVID-19 has been successful, there will be no better way to celebrate than to get out and enjoy increased access for hunting and fishing on our public lands,” she said. 

Interior Secretary Bernhardt, a former oil and gas lobbyist, has a history of scandals and ethics violations. 

In a statement issued in April, Washington Department of Ecology director Laura Watson criticized the federal rule made by the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers that will exempt thousands of wetlands and streams from federal oversight, effective June 22.  

“As the White House continues its relentless attack on the environment, the Washington Department of Ecology stands firm in our commitment to protect wetlands, ponds and streams that migratory birds and salmon depend on. This is another tragic abdication of federal responsibility to protect the environment,” she implored.  

By Stevie Beisswanger